South America travel tips

South America travel tips

Tips from our friends in south america

Chilean cornucopia

David Orrock from our supplier Pura Adventure highlights the dazzling variety of distinctive experiences in Chile in his South America travel tips:
“There are so many… wrapped up warmly, star gazing in the Atacama Desert; staying in a family home on the Pacific Coast of Chiloé tucking into the freshest seafood and sipping delicious Chilean wine; traveling by boat upriver into Torres del Paine National Park rather than bouncing around on a gravel road. We spend as much time out and about in the open air to make sure people get a sense of Chile every day of their trip.”

Going wild in Brazil

Anna Scrivens from our supplier Audley Travel offers wise words contrasting the Amazon and Pantanal for wildlife fans in her South America travel tips:
“We’re very careful with how we describe the Amazon because some people go there expecting to see a lot of wildlife. But really you don’t because the rainforest is so dense. So people can be disappointed if they have the wrong expectations. The Amazon is not really about the wildlife; it’s more of a jungle experience. If it’s wildlife you’re interested in then you need to go to the Pantanal. It’s not as famous as the Amazon, but the wildlife is much better. It feels much less like a jungle because the vegetation is so dense – but that’s why you see more wildlife.”

Liking Lakes

Matt Cain from our cycling supplier Saddle Skedaddle sings the praises of Argentina's Lake District in his South America travel tips:
“Surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes and immense crystal clear lakes, this is a dream destination for those looking to experience awe-inspiring scenery! Cycle alongside beautiful lakes, explore densely wooded surrounds and discover impressive rock formations in this incredible landscape. Another feature is the traditional wooden houses which make up the villages. These alpine-like structures provide an old-world charm and transport you to an alternate time and place.”

City tips

Elena Larkin from our supplier Natural World Safaris is originally from Lima, and highlights its growing appeal in her South America travel tips:
"Lima is changing - and it's all due to the gastronomy boom of the last few years. The city itself has a lot to offer: the centre is still very colonial, there are lots of museums and we have ruins about an hour away. It's been understated for so many years - people just stayed there for a night before heading to Cuzco - but nowadays people are starting to stay for two or three nights.”

Health & safety

Travel safely in South America


  • Anyone traveling above 3,000m – and there are plenty of places that high – should be aware of altitude sickness, known in Spanish as soroche or apuniamiento. Symptoms can be dangerous as well as simply debilitating – they include breathlessness, nausea, headache and extreme tiredness. Try to avoid rapid changes of altitude – on foot or otherwise. If moving from lower altitudes to higher perhaps spend a night at an intermediate altitude. Symptoms usually pass after 24 hours but if they persist, descend several hundred metres if possible. Also be sure to drink extra fluids at height, as dehydration is made worse by altitude. And take time to acclimatise to higher altitudes before treks like the Inca Trail.
  • Food is generally of high quality and food poisoning is uncommon. However, if traveling to remote areas it’s advisable to bring medication for mild stomach upsets, just in case, as medical facilities will be limited.
  • Visit your GP at least 6-8 weeks before travel to ensure you have the necessary vaccinations. You may also need antimalarial medication if traveling to the Amazon or coastal rainforests, although the highlands are malaria-free.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers in the jungle, and use insect repellent. The coastal rainforests and mangroves are far worse than the Amazon for mosquito bites. Mosquito nets should be provided when necessary.
  • The Amazon is not an ideal destination for young children as they will need a Yellow Fever vaccination and antimalarial medication. There are also a lot of mosquitoes – long sleeves and trousers as well as strong insect repellent and mosquito nets are essential.
  • Though extremely rare, rabies is present in South America – though largely restricted to parts of Bolivia and specific isolated areas of Brazil and Peru. More specific details here. If bitten or scratched by any dog – or bat – seek medical advice immediately.
  • Hypothermia is a risk at high altitudes and Patagonia. Take all the usual precautions in terms of clothing and when camping.
  • Sunburn and dehydration are issues due to both heat and altitude. Be sure to carry plenty of water if hiking – especially at higher altitude – and wear high-factor sunscreen and broad-brimmed hat. The sun is particularly dangerous at higher altitudes where temperatures are cooler – but the air is thinner, and you may not remember to cover up.
  • Street food and drink is a delicious treat but to avoid traveler’s tummy, avoid washed salads, unpeeled fruit and juices made with unpurified water or ice cubes.
  • The safety of tap water varies between countries and within them – always check with locals whether it is safe to drink.


  • Hikers need to be well-prepared in South America – trails can be challenging. Take all usual precautions in terms of water, sun protection, good maps and compass. Also carry extra layers of warm clothing, as temperatures can drop suddenly, particularly after sundown.
  • Crimes such as pickpocketing and mugging are common in many of South America's major cities. Be extremely vigilant, never walk around at night – especially if you are alone – and only carry essential valuables and cash, hiding them when possible. If you wear a money belt, keep this concealed – keep any change for spending handy, as otherwise you will be advertising your money belt to potential thieves. Leave jewellery and watches in your hotel, and don’t wear backpacks in towns, cities and on public transport as these are easy to steal from. Crime increases during Carnival and other festivities, so be extra cautious if visiting at these times.
  • Thieves are unfortunately often armed in Brazil – so do not attempt to resist them. Your life is worth more than your mobile phone or wallet.
  • Major South American cities experience periodic protests against local issues. These can turn violent, so it's advisable to keep away from large gatherings and demonstrations.
  • In an attempt to stop ATMs being tampered with, any machines which have been damaged will stain bank notes. Report this to the bank immediately; bank notes with stain marks will not be accepted anywhere. If possible, use ATMs inside banks.
  • Don’t take anything other than the essentials to city beaches – bring only the cash you need, and leave your camera behind.
  • Visiting a Brazilian favela is not advised unless you travel with a reputable guide.
  • Check the safety procedures on board boats – accidents on the Amazon are not uncommon. Enquire about life jackets for adults and kids in necessary.
  • Research beaches you plan to visit – some have strong currents which can be dangerous.

Tips from our travelers

Travel like a local in South America!

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful South America travel travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation - and the space inside your suitcase.
“Make sure you're in good shape for long and sometimes challenging hikes in Patagonia.” - Karen Cutler

"In the Atacama, be ready for no internet. But the experience is worth it." - Victoria Edwards

“The ability to speak a little South American Spanish would make it a lot easier. Also make sure you take some warm clothing for early starts and high areas visited. But don't forget the sun hat and sun screen as well.” - Dave Thalrose

“Peru and Bolivia are developing countries and hygiene and timekeeping are rather different there. Remember to respect locals and their way of life too!” - Kristiina Puusaari-Sheahan

“In Iquazu, all payments for tours are required in cash - no cards accepted. And the US dollar is in favour - but in the shops/restaurants cards are OK.” - Vera Alladitta

“Make sure your camera has a huge memory card... and take a good lip balm because the altitude makes your lips dry!!” - Jo Curry

“If you are not on a direct flight back to the UK - we changed planes at Madrid - you may have to change terminal and the authorities will take any liquid duty free off you. I'm still cross about my vintage wine!” - Patricia Stott

"Talking to local people about their lives was one of the most fascinating aspects of this vacation." - Joanna Rothon
Photo credits: [Chilian cornucopia: ] [Liking lakes: Liam King] [Review 1 - Joanna Rothon: Geraint Rowland] [Review 2 - Victoria Edwards: Nicolas de Camaret]
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